In the ideal educational future, is there a single design principle that matters most in establishing the optimal learning environment for children? That seems like a pretty important question to consider. And if you were to go by today’s leading reform strategies, you might conclude that the answer is, variably, greater accountability, better use of […]
Tag Archives: Democracy
At the New Teacher Center conference a few years ago, I watched a master teacher model a great way to introduce students to new material. She projected a single image onto the screen in our conference room — it was Liberty Leading the People — and asked us a single question, over and over again: “What do you see?” Any observation (“I see a strong woman”) would prompt a second question from the instructor (“What’s your evidence?”). It was fun, and illuminating, and after ten minutes, based on nothing more than our own close observations, we were ready to study the French Revolution.
I was reminded of that workshop recently, when I saw someone on Twitter share the following picture:
There’s an anecdote the Calhoun School’s Steve Nelson likes to share when he speaks to teachers and parents about the purpose of education. “We should think of our children as wildflower seeds in an unmarked package,” he says. “We can’t know what will emerge. All we can do is plant them in fertile soil, give them plenty of water and sunlight, and wait patiently to see the uniqueness of their beauty.”
At a time when too many students are still being planted in highly cultivated gardens – trimmed and pruned to resemble each other closely – it is incumbent upon all of us to stand on the side of the unmarked package. And at a time when we stray further and further from our democratic roots – from Chicago to DC – it is essential we heed the words of Mission Hill founder Deborah Meier, who reminds us that “democracy rests on having respect for the judgment of ordinary people.”
The decision by DC Council Education Committee Chairman David Catania to hire an outside law firm to craft school reform legislation is an awful one, worthy of serious public rebuke – and for two interrelated reasons.
I can’t reconcile the deep sense of community that filmmakers Amy and Tom Valens have captured in their 10-part video series about a year in the life of a public school in Boston, with the painful public clashes we’re witnessing in Chicago – where 54 of the city’s schools will soon be shuttered.
Indeed, although the nation’s attention is fixed on the historic fight for marriage equality in the U.S. Supreme Court, a part of us is dying in the Windy City – and no one in the mainstream media seems to care.
Courtesy of this interview with Semco’s Ricardo Semler. If you don’t know the story of Semco, take a listen. And imagine if all organizations were similarly organized?
Like most parents of a young child, I’m trying to decide which environment will be the best for my son when he enters a public school for the first time next fall. At nearly every open house my wife and I attend, cheerful administrators and educators tout the advantage of being a “participatory” school, and of “giving children the opportunity to learn and work in groups.” Send your child here, they tell us, and he’ll acquire a core set of democratic skills – from working collaboratively to acting empathetically – that will help him successfully negotiate our increasingly interconnected global community.
Sounds great, I say – until I open my Sunday New York Times and read a cover story warning against the rise of a new type of groupthink. “Most of us now work in teams,” writes author Susan Cain, “in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in. But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.”
Whom should we trust? Have we overvalued democratic skills like collaboration and shared decision-making to our own detriment? And, in the end, should our schools be more or less democratic?
Here, in Léogâne, halfway between Port-au-Prince and the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake that unleashed Haiti’s latest round of devastation, death and hardship, Doug Taylor is building houses.
An Indiana native in his 25th year of working for Habitat for Humanity, Taylor is tanned, serious and unshaven, with sandy straight hair that hangs down as though it has been weighted with stones. On a sunny day in December 2011, Taylor greets a visitor before 155 brand-new homes, all arranged in orderly rows, all built to a uniform size and shape, and all painted bright colors of pink, blue or green – a Haitian Levittown.
If you’re looking for the latest signs of America’s cultural descent into inanity, look no further than this weekend’s Sunday Styles section in the New York Times, and its review of Maria Abramovic’s performance piece at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s recent fundraising gala.